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5. Aliens (1986)

Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn, Paul Reiser, Jeanette Goldstein

One of the best compliments you can pay to a movie sequel is the assessment that the follow-up would work even if the first film didn’t even exist. You can dub that the Aliens outlook, after writer-director James Cameron’s starkly different yet also faithfully reverent 1986 gem. Knowing that he was treading on sacred genre ground, Cameron, riding high on his 1984 breakthrough The Terminator, took Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) into a fresh arena: the action-horror world.

Ridley Scott’s Alien operates like a slow-burning and intensely eerie haunted house movie set in space, with H.R. Giger’s horrific extra-terrestrial designs replacing undead spirits; Cameron’s Aliens, however, never stops for breath. The alien threat is larger in number, the set-pieces roar with breakneck intensity, and the direction is fluid even at its most frantic. The box office record books point toward Titanic and Avatar as Cameron’s crowning achievements, but any film lover with half-a-brain knows that Aliens is the man’s best work.

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